I Feel Stupid and Contagious

I feel stupid and contagious

I’m thirteen and pigeon-toed. A nice profile and clear skin–but my figure will take twenty more years to curve toward sexy and strong. It’s a weekend and I’m at Jackson Middle School, which feels strange because no one goes to school on weekends except for this–the 6th & 7th grade “social.” The only thing I really want is Tony-with-the-feathered-hair to ask me to slow dance, but what I’m looking at right now is the antithesis of slow.

What I’m looking at is Tiffany Karp: slender as Barbie, sleek Pantene hair, boobs that already need an underwire. She’s the most popular girl I know, and just two years into my new-life-at-public-school, popularity is like the thunderegg I might find at the pay-to-dig lava field near Fossil, Oregon. In other words–it’s not something I’ll ever find, but I still believe it could happen.

The DJ–Who is that in the dark corner, my math teacher?–presses a few buttons on a switchboard and the lights spiral from purple to swimming pool blue, spilling across the perfection that is Tiffany Karp, the horde of pretty girls dancing around her. A few feet away, my writer self–the one I haven’t become yet, the one that’s still just an obsessive observer of nuance, of images–studies every millisecond.

The beat ripples from deep bass to grinding electric and here it comes, the possessive opening bars of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I could be anywhere–underwater, under my own bedsheets, hidden between the pages of a book–I am that invisible–but when Tiffany throws her head back, tan neck silhouetted by blue strobe lights, then starts to headbang to the chorus, I come utterly unglued.

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid, and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

Cells ignite. My limbs move like amplified guitar strings, a vibration of angst and love, and I think I might be dancing. I think I might be fainting. I think I might be witnessing something I”ll never forget…

Because the moment I saw Tiffany Karp head-bang to Nirvana, I realized a truth I’d be writing my way toward for the rest of my life: That we all have the capacity to feel the same things. That when humans let go of fear, it’s visceral, arcing. That no matter what we look like on the outside, and no matter what messages society or cliques or the commanders in chief give us–at our core–we are much more alike, than we are different. If Tiffany Karp could head-bang, and I could head-bang, maybe the world wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe everything didn’t have to feel so separate and aching all the time.

I have spent the last twenty-seven years (and counting) rocking out to grunge music and trying to write stories that embody the truth of that moment on the dance floor. My characters find themselves in Wallowa, Oregon; in Kabul, Afghanistan, in Tikrit, Iraq; in Pentress, West Virginia. I reflect on versions of myself in Portland coffee shops; in Southeast Alaska forests; in the Adirondack mountains, the Berkshires, the Blue Ridge, the Greens, the Steens, the Cascades, you name it.

Everywhere where my words take me, there’s a Tiffany Karp, which is to say–there’s always a common thread, a tiny truth that turns idiosyncrasies into universals, a thing that binds us all.

At its essence, flash form writing is about finding truth in the immediate details of our lives–be that the lived experiences we know and remember, or the fictional scenes we build and shape. This April, let’s get “stupid and contagious” together in the wildest, most embodied sense of that phrase. Let’s infuse our writing and our imaginations with glorious, awkward, beautiful, striving moments, and bring them to life in a supportive online classroom.

Registration for Into the Flash is now open. Limited spaces are available in each section. Early bird pricing is just a click away.


PS Here’s what a past participant has to say about Into the Flash: “I didn’t realize that such a close knit community could be formed in a relatively short period of time. It has been a richly rewarding month of reading, writing and responding and I have learned so much. I am certain that by taking Katey’s suggestions for improvement and practice, I will soon be submitting my writing for publication—there are so many possibilities and this is not something I would have remotely considered a few weeks ago.” (Keith Davies)

PSS If you are still baffled by the subject line of this message, turn up the volume, think of Tiffany, and watch this.

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